Suicidal kids and guns in homes a deadly mix

May 6, 2013

One in 5 children and teenagers at risk for suicide lives in a home where firearms are present, and 15% of these kids at risk know how to access both the guns and bullets, said researchers at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting this week in Washington, DC.

One in 5 children and teenagers at risk for suicide lives in a home where firearms are present, and 15% of these kids at risk know how to access both the guns and bullets, said researchers at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting this week in Washington, DC.

Investigators created a suicide risk screening tool for emergency departments (EDs) to use to ask young patients about suicide. Study participants were 524 patients aged 10 to 21 years who presented to 1 of 3 pediatric EDs with medical, surgical, or psychiatric complaints. The patients filled out a 17-item questionnaire that the researchers used to develop a 4-question Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ) assessment tool to determine what patients were thinking and if they needed further mental health evaluation to keep them from hurting themselves.

Part of the ASQ asked about access to guns and ammunition in and around the patients’ homes. Of the patients who completed the screening, 29% were found to be at risk for suicide and 17% of them reported guns in the home. Among the patients at risk for suicide and reporting guns in the home, 31% knew how to access the guns, 31% knew how to get the ammunition, and 15% reported knowing how to access both the guns and the bullets.

The researchers say their preliminary study highlights the necessity of screening all children and adolescents for suicide whenever they visit the ED, and also points out the importance of parents understanding the danger of having guns in the family home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among persons aged from 10 to 24 years in the United States. Nearly half of young people who die by suicide use firearms. Forty percent of children who take their own lives have no known mental illness.